Decayed Daguerreotypes

A selection of images from the Library of Congress found via the always excellent Ptak Science Books blog. The daguerreotype, invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1837, was the first commercially successful photographic process and was popular throughout the mid-19th century. Daguerreotype portraits were made by the model posing (often with head fixed in place with a clamp to keep it still the few minutes required) before an exposed light-sensitive silvered copper plate, which was then developed by mercury fumes and fixed with salts. This fixing however was far from permanent – like the people they captured the images too were subject to change and decay. They were extremely sensitive to scratches, dust, hair, etc, and particularly the rubbing of the glass cover if the glue holding it in place deteriorated. As well as rubbing, the glass itself can also deteriorate and bubbles of solvent explode upon the image. The daguerreotypes below are from the studio of Matthew Brady, one of the most celebrated 19th century American photographers, best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War which earned him the title of “father of photojournalism”. The Library of Congress received the majority of the Brady daguerreotypes as a gift from the Army War College in 1920.


Library of Congress
Found via: Ptak Science Books
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download: Right click on image or see source for higher res versions

Portrait of the U.S. President James Buchanan [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


POrtrait of U.S. Congressman Joshua R. Giddings [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified woman [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified elderly woman with cap [between 1849 and 1860] – Source.


Portrait of unidentified woman about 30 years of age [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.



Portrait of Emma Gillingham Bostwick [between 1851 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of Dolly Madison [1848], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of Samuel Anderson Emery as Robin Roughhead in Fortunes frolics, full-length portrait, standing, holding flail, in front of backdrop with mountain and tree [ca.1851], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of James J. Mapes [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.



Portrait of unidentified man about 40 years of age and boy about 14 years of age [between 1850 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of an unidentified man about 40 years of age and a somewhat younger woman, both in Oriental costume, between them is a hookah, the stem of which both are holding [between 1850 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of U.S. politician Henry Clay [between 1844 and 1852], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified woman in theatrical costume [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man, though possibly Sergeant Smith Prentiss, lawyer and Whig representative from Mississippi [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified woman with spectacles, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, wearing lace cap [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man holding a hat [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of Mary Woodburn Greeley [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of Benjamin B. French, U.S. Commissioner of Buildings [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified woman [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of William C. Bouck [between 1844 and 1859], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.


Portrait of unidentified man [between 1844 and 1860], by Mathew Brady’s studio – Source.







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